October 13, 2012

Ray Stevens: Golden LP Series, Part One...

Well, here we are...a Saturday afternoon. Ray Stevens is scheduled to appear at The Inn of the Mountain Gods Resort and Casino later tonight in New Mexico. In the meantime I thought it would be a good opportunity to start this latest blog series where I write about every Ray Stevens studio album in history from 1962 through 2012. I title this series as such because vinyl albums, also known as an LP (long-playing), were manufactured in large quantities through the late '80s and to a lesser extent as the 1990's began. Vinyl became less and less visible though, in retail stores, by that point in time so music consumers purchased cassette tape and the CD as an alternative. Vinyl singles continued to show up as late as 1994, for example, perhaps for jukebox operators who hadn't switched to a digital alternative. I have a few vinyl singles from the early '90s in my modest collection so I know that some record companies were still pressing them.

This blog series kicks off in 1962 with the release of Ray's first ever studio album titled 1,837 Seconds of Humor on Mercury Records. I have the 1962 album in CD format, paired with his second studio album from 1963. I have the 1963 vinyl album in addition to this CD two-in-one release. The 1962 album was designed to support his current single at the time, "Ahab the Arab". The song, as you can see, appears in big red letters on the album cover...which also includes an illustration of Ahab and his camel, Clyde. The fact that the single's name is in bold lettering and big print and the actual title of the album showcased underneath all of the song titles and above the illustration is an obvious marketing decision to publicize the single's enormous popularity. "Ahab the Arab" ended up selling more than a million copies during it's initial release and it reached the Top-5 on the pop chart and the Top-10 on the R&B chart. It was also one of the fastest climbing singles as most novelty songs tend to be. In those days, especially with radio being more embracing of comedic/novelty releases, it wasn't uncommon to watch a comedy single debut on the Hot 100 near the bottom of the list and within weeks be knocking on the door of the Top-20 or Top-10. "Ahab the Arab" would become one of the signature songs for Ray Stevens. It's inclusion on future compilation releases by a wide variety of labels both domestic and international is a testament to the song's popularity in Ray's career. The camel, Clyde, became one of Ray's logo's and the name of his own record label. Prior to this album's release in 1962 the label had issued, at the time, a single-only release on Ray titled "Jeremiah Peabody's Polyunsaturated Quick Dissolving Fast Acting Pleasant Tasting Green and Purple Pills". The single reached the pop Top-40 in 1961 and it became part of 1,837 Seconds of Humor when the LP came along in 1962. There are 11 songs on this album and all of them were written by Ray Stevens. The album's producer is Shelby Singleton. Aside from the 1961 hit single and 1962's "Ahab the Arab", a lesser known release came along later in 1962 titled "Scratch My Back" which tells the story of a man who simply loves having his back scratched. It didn't reach the pop Hot 100 but it's an amusing tale nonetheless. A lot of the songs are performed in a frantic, uptempo pace and most of them clock in at 2 and a half minutes in length, or shorter, with a couple reaching beyond the 3 minute range. Even though the album was popularly known for it's "Ahab the Arab" connection there are a few other topical songs on here, too, as well as pop-culture references throughout: "PFC Rhythm and Blues Jones" tells of a music maker who gets drafted into the military; "Saturday Night at the Movies" is a timeless tale of celebrity ego and vanity that's all too familiar even today; "The Rock and Roll Show" spoofs rock and roll music first and foremost while also spoofing radio station-sponsored events like sock hops and the DJ's hired to emcee the event. Chubby Checker's hit, "Let's Twist Again", is referenced to memorably in "Ahab the Arab". The dance craze based on Checker's original, "The Twist", is referenced to by Ray in "The Rockin' Boppin' Waltz". The ultimate pop-culture reference comes with "Popeye and Olive Oil". The non-novelty on here is "Furthermore" which will probably sound like a novelty song now but back then was considered to be the love ballad of the album. It became a single and achieved a placing on the Hot 100 for a few weeks.

Coming up next in the series is This Is Ray Stevens from 1963, Ray's second studio album.

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